Traveling, As Told By My Five Senses

A great thing about travel is that it is all-encompassing. It engages every part of your body and all five of your senses. When I try to recall a past trip to somewhere I’ve been, the first thing that pops into my mind is usually what the place looked like. However, my visual memory is quickly followed by more in-depth sensory memories — what it smelled like, what I heard, what I felt, what the food tasted like.

Some cities have distinct smells (see below for a couple examples), some cities have certain sounds that are distinctly theirs and others are famous for a specific cuisine. Being aware of all five of your senses when traveling allows you to soak up more of your surroundings, and it makes it easier and more fun to remember those places in the future.

I thought back on my travels and went through all five senses — what are the smells I’ll never forget? The sounds? The feelings? The sights? The tastes? Below are some of my most memorable.


1. Sulfur (Rotorua, New Zealand): Rotorua is a town on the North Island of New Zealand. It’s famous for its geothermal activity — geysers, geothermal pools, etc. But all of that comes at a price: the entire city of Rotorua smells of sulfur. And not just a little bit, a lot. Like, when we flew in from Queenstown I could smell the sulfur in the plane once we entered Rotorua’s airspace. The air smelled, the tap water smelled, I smelled. Some places in the city smelled more strongly than others, especially when you got closer to a geyser or hot spring. However, I got semi-used to the smell after about a day. I still noticed it, but it didn’t bother me as much. One of our tour guides who had lived in Rotorua for a year said he didn’t even notice it at all anymore.


Look at all that stinky sulfur

2. Canals (Venice, Italy): Venice has a reputation of being stinky due to dirty water in its many canals. I don’t really remember finding this to be true when I was there, but I do remember the city had a unique smell. It smelled like a city that was, well, surrounded by water — a salty, algae-infused scent. It wasn’t a bad smell, but it was very memorable.

3. Incense at temples and shrines (Japan, China, Thailand): In nearly all of the Asian countries I’ve been to we’ve visited some type of temple or shrine. These usually have incense that guests can burn. Incense have a very strong and distinct smell (especially because I don’t particularly like it.)


1. Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral (London, England): I have visited many churches and synagogues in my travels, but I’ve not been able to observe a real service in many of them. I was lucky to be able to sit in on a service at St. Paul’s Cathedral during our trip to London. We attended the Evensong service, which was mostly music. The choir sang beautifully, and I remember how majestic and resonant it sounded in that gorgeous church.


St. Paul’s Cathedral in London

2. “A-train-is-coming” warning bells (Melbourne, Australia): If there is one sound I’ll remember from my internship this past summer, it is this. The trains in Melbourne crossed streets, so every time a train was approaching, barriers would swing out to block cars from moving, and these very loud bell sounds would go off. Those bells sometimes had me running to the station in the morning if I was a minute or two late, and they were also the bane of my existence if I was trying to cross a street.


1. Colorful coral and marine wildlife (Great Barrier Reef, Australia): While visiting Carins, my mom and I took a day trip out to the Great Barrier Reef. We went on a guided snorkeling tour once we got out on the reef. This was my first time snorkeling and I was incredibly excited to be doing it somewhere so amazing. Seeing the endless stretches of colorful coral and countless fish with my own eyes was indescribable. It really opened my eyes to the fact that there’s this whole gigantic and beautiful world under the sea that I rarely get to see.


Great Barrier Reef

2. Terracotta Warriors (Xian, China): I knew about the Terracotta Warriors before visiting China (one of the Magic Tree House books I’d read featured them), but was totally unprepared for just how impressive they would be in person. The Terracotta Warriors are known as being one of the most phenomenal archaeological discoveries in history. There are rows upon rows of hand-carved, life-size statues and horses that were made to defend the tomb of one of China’s early emperors. It was amazing to stand there, looking out over all the rows of clay soldiers, and think that it was all buried underground at one point.


Terracotta Warriors (only a small part of it)

3. Sunsets in Santorini (Santorini, Greece): I’ve seen many gorgeous sunsets in my travels, but I think Santorini takes the crown in this department. This Greek island is world famous for its sunsets. Look up any list of “World’s Best Sunsets” and Santorini is most likely on there. We saw sunsets from several different spots on the island while we were there, but the best one was definitely at Oia, a small town on the island. Everyone flocks to Oia to catch the sunsets because it has the most picturesque backdrop: white-washed houses, windmills, boats in the distance. The prime sunset-watching area in Oia was packed with tourists, and after Mother Nature’s show was over, everyone applauded.


Sunset over Oia, Santorini


1. Getting sprayed by waterfalls (Iguazu Falls, Brazil): Iguazu Falls are an incredible set of waterfalls on the Argentina-Brazil border. It’s one of the most famous waterfall systems in the world. We stayed on the Argentina side, but took a day tour over to the Brazil side to see the falls from a different angle. (Argentina’s side is known for being able to get closer to the falls, Brazil’s side is known for having better wide views.) While on the Brazil side, we walked out on this platform that took you in the middle of a circle of roaring waterfalls. My mom and I were wearing ponchos (thank goodness), but still got soaked!


Getting drenched by the waterfalls’ spray

2. Freezing cold temperatures while waiting for the Today Show (New York, New York): On one of our trips to the Big Apple, my mom and I decided to go visit the Today Show (it’s our favorite morning news show.) We had to get there around 5:30 a.m. to get a good spot in the front, but the show didn’t start till 7. So we were waiting around outside for over an hour and it was freezing cold, like actually below freezing. However, it was bearable because I was so excited, and because staff members handed out free Today Show hand warmers to everyone waiting on the Plaza.

3. Dripping with sweat at the Acropolis (Athens, Greece): Opposite of the Today Show experience, one of the hottest memories I have of traveling is the day my mom and I climbed up to the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens. It was the middle of July and in the upper 90s with lots of humidity. It was the kind of heat where you were drenched in sweat the moment you stepped outside. And hiking up to the Acropolis in crowds of tourists didn’t make it any better. But seeing the magnificent Acropolis up close was definitely worth it (even if we did look sweaty and gross in our pictures.)


Mom and I at the Acropolis (please ignore the sweat)

(Please note: I spared you from having to read about my Queenstown paragliding experience again, but it definitely was one of those feelings I’ll never forget.)


I already made an entire blog post last semester about my “Most Memorable Meals Around the World,” but here are some tastes that I didn’t include in that list.

1. Pineapple ice cream at the Dole Plantation (Honolulu, Hawaii): When I went with my high school marching band to Hawaii, we visited the Dole Plantation. It was really neat to see the fields with endless pineapple plants. We also spent a significant amount of time in the huge gift shop complex. Never in my life have I seen so many pineapple-themed things: pineapple shirts, pineapple keychains, pineapple bottle openers, pineapple pencils, I could go on and on. But the best part for me was definitely the pineapple cafe place. I got a delicious pineapple soft serve ice cream and it was amazing. I wouldn’t have thought pineapple ice cream would taste as good as it did (especially considering I don’t like pineapples all that much), but it was heavenly.


Selfie with my delicious pineapple ice cream

2. Brazilian cheese bread (Argentina & Brazil): When my mom and I visited Argentina and Brazil, I kept noticing restaurants serving these small little bread balls. The inside was kind of chewy and full of deliciousness. I had no idea what these little balls of scrumptiousness were, I just knew I loved them and couldn’t get enough. We had them in Buenos Aires, Iguazu and Rio de Janeiro. Fast forward a bit to when my mom and I are back home and watching the TV show Shark Tank — there was a pitch for these things called “Brazi Bites,” which were described as the cheese bread that is famous in Brazil and South America that people could now make at home (!!!) Who knew a small ball of cheesy bread could make me so happy.


Take Me to the Beach

I was about 2 years old when I went to my first beach. It was on Lake Erie in Pennsylvania (how glamorous, I know.) But I fell in love with the water and the sand and din’t want to leave. My mom and grandparents saw how much I loved my first taste of the beach and thought it would be fun to take me on vacation to a more “exciting” beach. Hence, our family trip to Cancun over Thanksgiving in 1999.

I’ve been to several beaches around the world since then, and each of them have been unique. Whether it be the color of the sand, the scenery surrounding it, or the activities available, each beach has been memorable.

Often times the process of getting ready to spend a day at the beach seems daunting to me — getting into swimsuits, packing a beach bag, lathering on sunscreen, staking out beach chairs, etc. — but once I’m there, dipping my toes in the cool, blue ocean or lounging on my chaise soaking up the sun, I remember why I love the beach so much. Living in the middle of the Midwest doesn’t prove friendly to beach-going, so I’ll take any opportunity I can when traveling to hit up a beach.

Here are some beaches I’ve been to in my travels:

Cancun, Mexico: Cancun was the first resort-style beach I went to. I don’t really remember much of it, but I do remember that I loved digging in the sand with my little plastic shovel looking for Mexican pesos. (A much lower-tech version of scanning the sand with a metal detector.)


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Mom and I on the beach in Cancun

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Here I am digging for pesos in the sand, while my grandparents chill in the back

Boulders Beach (Cape Town, South Africa): Okay, so I technically went to this beach before we went to Cancun, but it was winter in South Africa when we were there so we didn’t really do “beachy” things. This beach is most famous for its penguins, which are adorable!


Mom and I looking at the penguins

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Perissa Beach (Santorini, Greece): This beach was unique because it was a black sand beach, due to the volcanic history of the famous Greek island. So far, my favorite beach memories have been from this beach. The water was crystal clear and the day was perfect: warm and sunny. I remember floating in the ocean, letting my head dip under the water and becoming completely ensconced in the distinct quiet that only occurs underwater. After floating in the water for a while, we relaxed on lounge chairs while watching ships pass in the distance. I even got a foot massage by a roaming beach masseuse!


Perissa Beach, Santorini

Copacabana & Ipanema (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil): Perhaps two of the most famous beaches in the world (thanks, Barry Manilow.) You can’t go to Rio and not visit these two icons (and it’s hard to miss them, especially since Copacabana covers such a long stretch of the city.) We visited Brazil in July when it was winter there. It was still warm enough to spend time at the beach, but not quite warm enough to go swimming in the ocean. We spent the most time at Ipanema, which was gorgeous because of its mountainous backdrop.





Waikiki Beach (Honolulu, Hawaii): I went to Waikiki Beach right after my senior year when my high school marching band took a trip to Honolulu. Waikiki is the typical type of beach you probably think of when you think of a beach. It has soft, white/yellow sand, bright blue waters and lots of tourists. It was a lot of fun though, especially because I was there with so many of my band friends. We swam in the Pacific, laid out in the sun and built sandcastles (including a sand birthday cake for one of our band directors!)


Waikiki Beach

Cressy Beach (Tasmania, Australia): The number of times I’ve written about this beach on this blog is getting to be too much, yet here we are again. This is the cute little beach we stopped at on our 3-hour drive home from Wineglass Bay to Hobart. It was winter and pretty cold out so we definitely did not go in the water, but the sunset made this beach magical. I’ve literally never in my life seen the sky turn such jaw-dropping shades of pink and purple. It felt like we were walking in a painting. And for an extra bonus, we were the only people there!


This is exactly how it looked in real life

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Panorama view of Cressy Beach sunset

Bondi Beach (Sydney, Australia): The first time I visited Sydney my mom and I didn’t make it out to Bondi, so I was glad I was able to go with my intern friends my second time to the city. Again, winter in July meant it was too cold to go in the ocean, although chilly temps didn’t stop some from swimming an surfing. But there were many other things to do at this famous beach (including riding an actual camel…) We went on a beautiful hike along the beach’s coast and saw some stunning views from high up on the rocks.


Bondi Beach


Here I am, carefree and sitting on the edge of a cliff

Reynisfjara Beach (Vik, Iceland): This was the second black beach I’ve been to. Iceland is a country of immense natural beauty, and this beach was no exception. Reynisfjara Beach was special because there was this giant cave right on the beach. And it was huge. There were also flocks of puffins perched atop the greenery of the cave roof (and a boy whose dumb parents let him climb up the side of the cave.) Not only did this beach have incredible views of water and rocks, but you could even see a glacier off in the distance.


Reynisfjara Beach


The giant cave

I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane…and Boat, and Train, and Elephant

It’s a bird…it’s a plane…it’s…an elephant? According to, the definition of travel is “to go from one place to another, as by car, train, plane, or ship.” The first steps of traveling (and the many steps in-between) inevitably require some type of transportation. Although getting to and fro is certainly not always the most entertaining part of traveling, it’s a necessary part. And sometimes it can even be fun.

Below are some of the various modes of transportation I’ve taken throughout my travels so far — some are unique, some are not, but they’re all part of the journey.

 Airplane: Some people hate flying. I love it. I love putting on my headphones and listening to music, curled up in a window seat, lulled to sleep by the occasional turbulence. I love watching the clouds and world below me. Some of the best sunrises and sunsets I’ve ever seen have been from airplane windows. Planes are also a big part of my life’s story. I was just 7 months old when my mom brought me home from China, a long trip that included five flights: Maoming to Guangzhou, Guangzhou to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Tokyo, Tokyo to Los Angeles and, finally, Los Angeles to St. Louis (not to mention the 2-hour car ride home to Columbia.)


Sunrise over Los Angeles after flying in from Melbourne

Subway: As I’ve said before on this blog, my mom likes to pride herself on being able to figure out subway systems all over the world. I’ve ridden the busiest subway system in the world (Tokyo), the oldest (London), the longest by route (Shanghai), the system with the most stations (New York City) and others: Brussels, Paris, Washington D.C., Budapest, Rome, Beijing, Sydney and Melbourne, to name a few. I’ve learned that subways are probably the best mode of transportation to really experience what it’s like to be a local somewhere.


The Tube in London

Cable Car: Cable cars are so fun. You get to soar in the sky and see the sights below you. Hopefully you’re not squished in with a million other people. One of my favorite cable car experiences was in Kuranda outside of Cairns, Australia. My mom and I had this glass-bottom cable car all to ourselves, so we could see everything as we soared over the rainforest. Some other places I’ve ridden cable cars are: Rio de Janeiro, Bergen, Queenstown.


Soaring over the Australian rainforest in Kuranda

Funicular: What’s a funicular, you ask? It’s this weird tram-like thing that goes up a steep hill. I’ve ridden a few funicular’s in my travels, but I’ll never forget the one in Budapest. It was extremely hot that day and we were squished, standing-room-only, in this funicular up to Buda Castle. I blacked out for a second and nearly fainted on top of some German tourists. Fun times.


Please enjoy this google image photo of the scene of the crime

Rickshaw: I’ve seen that rickshaws are most popular in the Asian countries I’ve been to. They’re kind of like horse-drawn carriages, but instead of a horse, it’s a guy on a bicycle.


Mom and I in a rickshaw in Xian, China

Segway: For a brief period in my life I was really into Segways. I’d never actually ridden one, but really wanted to. We saw a parade of tourists riding around Florence when we were there, and that was the first time I’d ever seen a Segway tour. I knew I had to go on one. My dreams were crushed when we saw a Segway tour in D.C. but realized I was too young. I finally got my chance in Chicago when my mom and I wheeled around the city (albeit looking a bit ridiculous in those helmets), but it was still really fun, and such a unique way to see a city.


Segway tour in Chicago

Boat: Boats have been a very common part of my travel transportation. In fact, I think in almost every trip I’ve been on I’ve taken a boat at least once, whether it was a cruise, sailboat, gondola, catamaran, submarine or ferry. There have been places where boats were a primary means of transportation, like Venice and Sydney, and places where we’ve taken cruises and boat tours, like in New Zealand. We took a 3-hour boat ride out to the Great Barrier Reef, which was amazing, but also the first time I ever really got close to getting seasick.


Breathtaking cruise through the fjords of Milford Sound in New Zealand

Elephant: Definitely one of the most unique modes of transportation I’ve ever taken. While in Chiang Mai, Thailand, we visited an elephant camp and rode on the back of an elephant up muddy trails and around the camp.


Riding an elephant in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Foot: Boring, I know, but walking is the most common and frequently-used way of getting around when traveling. I am by no means a fan of walking tours, but I’ve done a few and some have been pretty neat. One particularly good walking tour that comes to mind is the one we did of the Jewish Quarter in Budapest.

Train: My mom’s favorite mode of transport. The great thing about Europe is that you can hop on a train and end up in a different country in as little as 30 minutes. We’ve taken trains all over Europe, including the Chunnel between Paris and London, and overnight trains in China. I can see why my mom loves trains — they’re so relaxing and so much less of a hassle than air travel. I’d love to someday take a train tour across Canada.


Train station in Paris

Super Jeep: This past summer in Iceland we took a day tour of the south coast. I found this tour company that operated heavy-duty jeeps, so they were able to go off-road places that normal tour buses couldn’t go. We drove along actual beaches and did a crazy, awesome joy ride up and down these giant hills and splashed through streams.


The Super Jeep and our driver in south Iceland

Bus: I kid you not, we’ve literally taken the exact same two sightseeing tour bus companies in cities all over the world. Doing hop-on hop-off bus tours are a great way to see a city on one of your first days there and really get the lay of the land. They give you cheap headphones to plug in so you can listen to commentary along the drive, and you can get on and off at whatever stops you want. Some cities we’ve done these in are: Rome, Reykjavik, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Shanghai, London.


Literally this exact same bus company everywhere

Duck: You’ve ridden a duck, you say?? Well, yes. But not the quack quack duck you’re probably thinking of. Duck tours are tours that use these weirdly cool amphibious buses. They’re often repurposed military vehicles that drive on land, but covert into boats and then convert back into buses. There’s nothing like driving along the sand and then suddenly going into the water and not drowning! We’ve been on a couple of these Duck tours in places that are surrounded by a lot of water. The most recent was in Rotorua, New Zealand, and the guide actually told us that the vehicle was made in Branson, Missouri!


The Duck on land (it was a repurposed WWII military vehicle)


The Duck in the water!

Paragliding: Saved the best for last. I know I already dedicated an entire blog post to paragliding last semester, but it was seriously one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. I went paragliding in Queenstown, New Zealand, off the top of Coronet Peak. It was winter there, so I took a ski lift up to the top and literally ran off the side of the mountain (it was tandem) and glided through the air. Can’t wait to do it again somewhere.


Paragliding over Queenstown, New Zealand

Travel “Bests” of 2016

Happy 2017! I begin this new year and new semester in a new class, J4806 Convergence Editing and Producing. This time we’re required to keep up a blog for a grade. I plan to continue with my theme of “travel” because, honestly, can I ever run out of things to write about on this topic? I barely scratched the surface last semester and still had a lot of ideas for blog posts.

I follow multiple travel vloggers on YouTube, and several of them did end-of-the-year recap videos of their “favorites” from 2016. I didn’t travel to 20+ different countries this year like vlogger Louis Cole did, but I still thought it’d be fun to make a recap like this for myself. I picked some of the questions from several different videos to answer in this post.

(Here’s one of the videos that inspired the below Q&A post):

Best hotel: In Reykjavik we stayed in this adorably quaint little apartment hotel. It was equipped with a kitchen and living room. It was on a quiet street that also housed several international embassies. One morning we even saw the Russians get a giant basket of bananas delivered.

Best city: I gotta give it up to Melbourne. Not only because I lived here for over a month, but because it was so cultured and unique. All of the street art, endless coffee shops and easy-to-navigate public transportation made Melbourne my favorite city of 2016, and the city that feels a bit like home.

Best museum: I went to lots of museums in 2016, which included seeing viking ship remnants in Iceland and the real Dolly the cloned sheep in Scotland, but my favorite museums (I can’t pick just one) were in the good ol’ US of A. I’d been to the Cleveland Museum of Art before, but when we went over spring break in 2016 they had a special Egyptian pharaoh exhibit. I love Egyptian stuff so it was really neat to see. Also at the top of my list was (of course) the MoMA  in New York.


The Cleveland Museum of Art’s beautiful atrium


CMA pharaoh exhibit


A Matisse at MoMA

Best view: This is not a fair question. There are too many to choose from. The Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road, the pink sunset on the Tasmanian beach, the rolling valleys of the Scottish Highlands, and the seemingly endless natural wonder of Iceland (a country in which there was beauty everywhere I seemed to look.)

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The Scottish Highlands


The Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road

Best wildlife sighting: I already wrote about seeing kangaroos and koalas in my last blog post, so I’ll write about my other wildlife encounter this time: So. Many. Puffins. In. Iceland. And they were so cute. We saw them chilling on cliffs when we visit the black beach on our south coast tour, and we saw them when we took a boat out for a puffin-watching tour.


Puffins on the rocks on top of a cave


Wild puffin sighting on our boat tour!

Best music: This has to go to Glasgow. My mom had her International Society for Music Education conference here, so of course there was a lot of good music. We heard music groups perform from all over the world — from Texas to Turkey — and also got to listen to plenty of great Scottish music. We watched Dame Evelyn Glennie perform, and heard a moving performance of Auld Lang Syne by real Scottish musicians.


A group from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland performing (see the bagpipes!)

Best souvenir: I got this authentic Scottish wool scarf in Edinburgh. It looks Burberry-esque (but it’s definitely not.) I got it to go with a coat I have, and, not only does it make a fashionable (and warm) accessory, but every time I wear it I’m reminded of walking the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

Best day: I’ve already written about this, but the day my intern friends and I drove out to Wineglass Bay in Tasmania. The weather was sunny, and we stopped at gorgeous beaches on the way there and back. Another best day was when my mom and I took a tour of Iceland’s south coast. We saw stunning waterfalls, glaciers, a beautiful black beach and got to go on a crazy ride in a jeep.


Reynisfjara black beach


Me with our Super Jeep in front of a glacier


In Vik, South Iceland


Seljalandsfoss waterfall

Sixteen Highlights From My 2016

Every internet post and meme I’ve seen has said how 2016 was such an awful year. And yes, a lot of terrible things did happen in the world this year. But, looking back, my 2016 also had a lot of good come out of it. I had the opportunity to travel to some incredible places, and at one point I was on three different continents in one week. I made new friends and strengthened friendships with old ones, and I greatly developed my skills as a journalist.

Here are 16 highlights from my year:

1. Visiting NYC and seeing our cousin on Broadway

My 2016 had an exciting start with my mom and I making a last-minute trip to NYC in January when we found out our cousin Robert was going to be playing a part in Finding Neverland for a limited time. The show was amazing, and it was so fun knowing someone in it. Afterward, Robert gave us a backstage tour! While in New York, we also saw Something Rotten and Matilda, as well as visited MoMA and the Met.



Us on the Broadway stage with our cousins Robert (center) and Jeremy (right) after the show!

2. Experiencing True/False for the first time

After living in Columbia for 20 years, I’m unsure as to why I’d never been to the True/False Film Festival before, but I hadn’t. My friend Sarah had a press pass so we were able to get tickets to several films, and the others we queued for. My favorite film we saw was Sonita, which was about an Afghani refugee girl who raps about social issues. After the movie, the real Sonita came out on the stage and performed for the audience. Sarah and I even ran into Sonita on the street after we saw the film!


Sonita performing a rap after the film

3. Interning in Melbourne

Perhaps the biggest highlight of my 2016 was my six-week internship in Melbourne, Australia. Not only did I have a great experience working at my internship and creating things to add to my portfolio, but I also grew a lot as a person having to manage living in a new city. I made new friends with the other interns, saw the Great Ocean Road, had the best mochas and hot chocolates of my life and got up close and personal with kangaroos and wallabies.


Me and some of the other interns in the famous Hosier Lane


My kangaroo friend ❤

4. Weekend trip to Tasmania

Three intern friends and I took a long weekend and traveled to the island of Tasmania, which was only a 30-minute flight from Melbourne. We rented a car and had a cute (but, surprisingly, very spacious) Airbnb. Our Tasmanian adventure included: driving up to the top of a mountain, walking through a rainforest, going on a ghost tour of an old penitentiary, roadtripping to Freycinet National Park, walking on secluded beaches during gorgeous sunsets and eating delicious desserts. Tasmania definitely earned a spot on my list of favorite places.


On the drive up Mount Wellington in Hobart, Tasmania

5. Visiting Sydney

The last weekend trip I did was with three friends to Sydney. Even though our Airbnb situation ended up being kind of a disaster (we now fondly refer to it as “The Ratchet Aribnb”), we had a great few days in the city. We got hella lost our first day trying to walk to the Opera House — the streets of Sydney are curved instead of a grid, which made it extremely confusing for us — but we eventually made it and boy, even though it was my second time to Sydney, seeing the Sydney Opera House up close still blew me away. We also visited the Art Gallery of New South Wales, walked through the Royal Botanic Gardens, ambled along Bondi Beach and took in stunning views of the city from high up in one of the towers next to the Harbour Bridge.


Ajaee, Marissa, Lucas, Me

6. Spending time with family

Mom and I went to Cleveland over spring break to visit my grandpa. We also came to Cleveland for the beginning of winter break this December like we do every year. Sadly, one of my great-aunts passed away while we were there, and the day we were supposed to have a family party we had a funeral. However, the light in this situation is that I got to spend time with cousins I rarely see and connected with some fascinating distant relatives I’d never met before. This year showed me the importance of spending time with family whenever you can, because you never know when a “goodbye” will be your last.

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Me and grandpa

7. Trip to Scotland…

Five days after returning home from Australia my mom and I left for Europe. My mom had a conference in Glasgow, Scotland, and we also visited Edinburgh. Scotland was never a destination that was high on my list of places to visit, but it was really incredible. I visited the university Hogwarts was based on, saw the cafe in which J.K. Rowling actually wrote Harry Potter, cruised Loch Ness, visited a gorgeous Victorian cemetery, admired some beautiful old castles and churches and heard some great music at my mom’s conference.


University of Glasgow, what Hogwarts was based on

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Scottish Highlands

8. …and Iceland

After Scotland we spent five days in Iceland — somewhere that was high on my list of places to visit. Iceland did not disappoint. We stayed in Reykjavik (the northernmost capital of the world, btw) and it found it to be a charmingly modern and quaint city, not at all hustling and bustling like other capital cities we’ve visited. We took two different day tours. One was of the Golden Circle, in which we saw lava fields, geysers and waterfalls. The second day tour, and my favorite, was to Iceland’s south coast. The drive was gorgeous and we saw more waterfalls, a black beach, puffins and glaciers.




Mom and me at Skogafoss Waterfall in southern Iceland

9. Seeing Queen Bey in concert

In September my friend/roommate Haley and I drove to St. Louis to see Beyoncé in her Formation World Tour. We’d bought our tickets over the summer and I’d excitedly anticipated the concert for months. The concert was unforgettable and I kept saying to Haley that I couldn’t believe we were actually seeing Beyoncé in person. She was actually there up on that stage. And when she started singing “Halo” at the end, man, just Beyoncé.


Me and Haley and Queen Bey

10. Voting in my first presidential election

Okay, we all know how this event tragically ended. But it was still a highlight of my year. I was very excited to cast my ballot in my first presidential election, especially one of this magnitude.


Voter #300

11. Halloween costumes and making BuzzFeed

My roommates and I dressed up as “The Many Faces of Johnny Depp” for Halloween 2015. I submitted a pic of us to BuzzFeed and we actually made it into one of the site’s posts (number 9)! This year for Halloween 2016 we continued the group costume theme and went as Batman and his villains.


Catwoman, the Joker, Batman, Poison Ivy


12. Continuing volunteering as a tutor for second grade

I’ve been involved with the organization A Way With Words and Numbers since my freshman year. In 2016 I continued and was in a second grade classroom. I love the eagerness, sweetness and innocence of the second graders and it’s so much fun getting to know them and helping them learn. It’s so heartwarming to walk into the classroom and have a chorus of second graders go, “Can I go with Miss Rayna today? Please can I go?” ❤

13. Successfully completing J4804

J4804 Convergence Reporting is notoriously one of the hardest classes in the entire Mizzou J-School. This fall semester was my toughest, busiest and most stressful semester of my college career thus far, and all due to 4804. I was terrified coming into this class because of it’s reputation. However, 4804 ended up being the most valuable class I’ve taken in college thus far. Yes, it was difficult and there were tough moments — like when two teammates and I got stranded on the side of I-70 with a flat tire on our first team story — but I learned so much and improved my skills by 1,000 times. I traveled to Waverly, Missouri, the state capitol, and met tons of fascinating sources. I got better at talking to strangers, working with teammates and learned that, if the amount of effort is mutual, I love collaborating with like-minded people. I am quite proud of the the work I did in 4804 and even had a radio story air on KBIA!


The State Trooper who helped us change my flat tire


Recording my voiceover in the KBIA studio!

14. Keeping up this blog

As part of J4804, we got extra credit if we kept a blog with weekly posts about a certain topic. I chose “travel” as my topic and enjoyed having to write about it every week. I like keeping a blog, but I’ve found that if  I don’t have an actual reason to keep it up, I find it hard to motivate myself to do so. My favorite blog post I did in 2016 was this one in which I compared my grandparents’ 40-year-old travel photos to pictures from my own travels. In the journalism class I’m taking this coming semester we also get extra credit if we have a blog, so looks like I’ll be able to keep this up (at least for another semester).

15. Late-night jam sessions with my best friend

I was lucky enough to be able to go through 4804 with one of my best friends, Sarah. We suffered together and triumphed together. After long 10+ hour deadline days at the j-school, I’d often go over to Sarah’s apartment where we’d unwind by having mini jam sessions. (Basically just playing guitar and trying to figure out harmonies to Jonas Brothers’ songs.) Can’t wait till we’re roommies next fall so this can be a more regular occurence.

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We were probably singing Hamilton

16. Turning 21

I turned the big 2-1 last week on December 23. We went out to lunch and I ordered my first legal drink and proudly got carded. Can’t wait to get a new non-vertical drivers license!


All in all, 2016 was a pretty good year for me. Hopefully 2017 will be even better, and much better for this country and the world. Starting with a trip back to NYC in a few weeks, and hopefully another internship adventure this summer, 2017, I have high hopes for you!


See ya, 2016!


Excerpts From My Very First Travel Diary

Last week’s blog post was all about my grandma’s travel diaries — I wrote about how she inspired me to keep travel diaries of my own. I thought it would be fun to dedicate this week’s post to my own travel diaries, so I dug through my shoebox of them and found the very first one I ever kept! My first travel diary is from 2002 and includes trips to Dallas, Nashville and Europe.



My first ever travel diary (circa 2002). FYI I still love Harry Potter.

Here’s the first entry from my Nashville trip. (I’ll put the translation below since 7-year-old me’s handwriting and spelling were not super great.)


Lol @ how I spelled it “Nashvill Tenissee”

“The second day we went to Opryland. It was this big hotel we went outside it had a huge garden. It had a ride it had so many things I didn’t know what to look at first. It had a waterfall and piano and a pond with rocks that had holes in them and water squirted out of it. Then we saw the waterfall and mom took a picture of me and my grandparents.


The picture I mentioned my mom took of me and my grandparents

“Then we had lunch. I had Kraft macaroni and I got an ice cream sundae. I put chocolate sauce on top of it. After lunch we went back to the hotel. I realized I liked staying at the Renaissance because everything had the first letter of my name on it.”

The summer of 2002 I went with my mom and grandparents to Europe. My mom had a conference in Bergen, Norway, but before that we also went to Germany, Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Here’s an entry from Amsterdam:


Lol “Amsherdam”

“We moved into a hotel called Crowne Plaza then took a walk around town. We saw lots of stuff we had a snack we went window shopping. Then we walked back to our hotel and had dinner at the patio. Then I went swimming at the pool and then I went to bed.

“We had breakfast at a buffet in our hotel. Then we all went to the Rijksmuseum. Saw lots of interesting paintings and a famous painting called The Night Watch. Then we went into the doll house room there were doll houses. Then we went into another room I saw more paintings, one by Rembrandt. I saw my favorite painting called The Floating Feather by So-and-So. Then we bought postcards I couldn’t find my favorite painting so I bought one with a pretty feather.”


Me in Amsterdam

At age 7, not everything and every museum we went to kept my attention, hence this entry from Copenhagen:


“We went to the national museum it was boring for me.”

I did seem to enjoy taking the cable car in Norway, though. Here’s an entry from our second day in Bergen:


“We took a double-decker bus to the cable car. We took it up to the top of the mountain and back. We rode back on the double-decker bus and it started to rain so we had lunch. Went back to our hotel for a while then we had dinner and played ping pong and foosball.”


Cable car up and down the mountain


Me at the top of the mountain

Lastly, here’s a different entry from Bergen:


“We took a little train to have a look around Bergen. then we had lunch and we walked down by the dock. On the way we stopped by at the troll store. We got some souvenirs then we put mom on her ship. Then we had ice cream and went back to our hotel and played and then mom came home and we went out for dinner.”


Me outside that troll store

I find reading back through my old travel diaries both hilarious and nostalgic. It’s fun to see what younger me thought was worth writing down, and what impressions of places I got. The travel diaries from when I was older (besides being more legible) become more detailed and I can tell I had much more appreciation of the cultures and places we visited.

Remembering My Grandma Through Her Travel Diaries

It was a lazy afternoon in Barcelona. My grandma and I were resting back at the hotel in between sightseeing. It was 2004 —  I was 9 years old. I watched as my grandma pulled out her colorful gel pen and began jotting down events of the day in her travel diary. My grandma always kept a travel diary of every trip she went on, and she was the one who inspired me to do the same.

“What are you going to do with all of your travel diaries?” I asked her, lounging on the the hotel bed.

“Well,” she said to me, “I hope that someday when I’m not around anymore, you can have them and read back through all of the fun trips and adventures your grandpa and I have had.”

After my grandma died in 2006, I found all of her travel diaries tucked away in a shoebox up in the ironing room in my grandparents’ Cleveland home. They dated back to 1969 and went through 2006. I read about the excursions my grandparents went on from Jerusalem to the cliffs of Cornwall, all about about the cruises they took to Alaska and the Mediterranean, and about the dazzling shows they saw the countless times they went to Las Vegas.


Some of my grandma’s travel diaries

My mouth watered as I read about the delicious meals my grandma ate all over the world, from lamb chops in Greece to fresh seafood in the Seychelles. I laughed reading her complaints about my grandpa’s snoring keeping her up at 4 a.m. in Budapest, and I teared up reading her words about pushing me in my stroller down the streets of Stellenbosch.


“When Rayna came to room she ran and hugged me for so long!”  When I was 2, my mom and I traveled to South Africa with my grandparents. 

Besides being heartwarming mementos of my grandma, her travel diaries can also serve as a primary source for many of our family’s memories. Can’t remember which year we went to a certain place? Curious about the name of the hotel we stayed at? Just look it up.

From my grandma’s travel diaries, I can read about the exact day and place she bought certain souvenirs — from the paintings that decorate the walls of their house, to the dainty Mozart figurine they gifted my mom from Salzburg.

My favorite of her travel diaries are the ones from trips we went on together. As I read the words my grandma wrote down in her ever-so-neat handwriting, it’s as if I can hear her voice again. She’s right there telling me about how I first learned to swim in the pool at our hotel in Cancun, and about the first time I ever had fish and chips — when I was 2 at a restaurant in Pretoria.


Excerpt from her entry about a day Cape Town: “Too cloudy and then raining to go to Table Mountain so we went to a stone factory. Rayna picked stones to fill a little bag.” (see photo below)


Me (and mom) collecting said stones in a little bag (Cape Town 1998)

Reading these pages is like reliving many of my most cherished memories I have of my grandma — some of which I remember, like playing with her and my grandpa at a mountaintop park in Norway,  and some of which I was too young to remember, like how I apparently really enjoyed this one jellyfish ride at Disneyland.

While nothing can ever fill the void of my Grandma Barbie, reading the words she wrote by hand that describe some of the best times and adventures of her life spent with the people she loved the most certainly helps. I hope she would be happy to know that I have loved reading through her travel diaries, and that she would be proud of me for continuing her legacy by keeping travel diaries of my own.


My grandma and me, 1999


Reminder: Goodness Still Exists

This has been an extremely difficult week for me, for most of my friends and family, for my country and for the world. I have never felt such disappointment, disgrace and disgust. It is utterly crushing to watch in real time just how many people choose hatred, bigotry and racism over respect, equality and love.

It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of thinking that a majority of people in this nation have such an outdated mindset, however, the popular vote shows that it’s not true. And we must remember that voter turnout was only a little over 50 percent (which is frustrating in and of itself.) So the number of people celebrating right now is actually much smaller than it seems.

As I sit here, drained both emotionally and physically (I think the whole country-in-shambles thing really took a hit on my immune system), I choose to not lose faith in humanity. My body has no more tears to shed. I choose to remember the good in this country and in this world.

So, here are a just a few recollections from my travels of times when people were kind and good:

1. Losing my wallet in Chicago and having it returned

The summer after graduating high school, I went with four of my friends to Chicago for a senior trip. We took the train to and from, and had a fun few days in the Windy City. As we were riding the train home, I got a frantic call from my mother. She said the hotel we’d stayed at had just called her saying someone found my wallet on the couch. I realized I must have accidentally left it there when we were finishing packing up our stuff in the lobby. Someone could have easily taken my wallet, or turned it into the front desk it after taking out the cash, but, instead, the kind soul returned my wallet fully intact.

2. Young woman helping us when we were lost in the Tokyo subway

Tokyo has the busiest subway system in the world. But it is very efficient and organized. My mom has visited Tokyo multiple times, and two of those times were with me. My mom likes to pride herself on the fact that she is pretty good at figuring out subway systems in cities all over the world. I will credit her with that — London, Beijing, New York, Budapest, Paris, Brussels…she’s been able to navigate us through the underground.

However, one of the times we were in Tokyo, I remember us standing in a crowded subway station completely confused and at a loss of which train to take. A young woman must’ve seen us looking forlorn — standing there with our spread-out subway map and puzzled expressions —  because she kindly came up to us and spent a few minutes helping us figure out which route would get us where we needed to go, and then directing us to the right platform.

3. Getting a piggyback ride through the Malaysian rainforest

We visited Malaysia in 2006 when I was 10 years old. One day we signed up for an excursion into a rainforest near Kuala Lumpur. What we had though would be a nice, scenic stroll through the rainforest turned out to be a long trek that included wading through leech-infested waters. I will also point out that there were several blind people on this trip, which shows we weren’t the only ones who got more than we bargained for.

The rainforest itself was beautiful, but I was not enjoying this hike. We were not told we’d be walking across rivers and slippery rocks, so the tennis shoes we’d worn got soaking wet. Not to mention the entire time I was terrified of getting attacked by leeches (I have a strange phobia of worms.) As the journey went along, it began pouring, which added to my misery. One of the tour guides used a machete to chop off giant banana tree leaves for us to use as umbrellas. I started crying (I was a bit wimpy, I’ll admit) and a guide saw me in distress. He picked me up and gave me a piggyback ride all the way back to headquarters.


Crossing a river in the rainforest


Going through a drainage tunnel


4. Marching through the streets of Honolulu as people cheered

My high school marching band marched in the King Kamehameha parade in Honolulu, Hawaii, right after I graduated. The parade was almost 5 miles long. That is long. It was hot and tiring to be marching for so long, but it wasn’t bad because the people on the streets kept cheering for us. They were so excited and kind, even though they had no idea who we were, and had likely never heard of Columbia, Missouri, before. Their cheerful encouragement made those 5 miles fun and meaningful.


Waiting for the parade to start in Honolulu


Once-In-A-Lifetime Memories

All travel memories are special. However, sometimes when you’re traveling, you have an experience that is just a little more unique than the rest. There was a huge festival going on the week you visited a certain city, or luck landed you in the right place at the right time, or something was happening at the time that made the place you were traveling in even more lively than usual. Or you had a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you can never recreate. Whatever the reason may be, these moments were more serendipitous and magical than others.

Here are some of my most unique travel memories:

Watching Argentina play Brazil in the World Cup while in Argentina (2014):

In July 2014 Argentina faced off against Brazil in the World Cup. We were staying in Buenos Aires at the time, and it was so fun to see the entire city rally in support of its team. Shop windows were decorated in white and blue, people were wearing jerseys and vendors were selling Argentina sports gear on the streets. When the championship game was on, we were staying at a resort in the Iguazu Falls National Park in Argentina, which is where you can visit the famed waterfalls.

We sat out in the lobby with a bunch of other guests watching the game. There were a lot of Argentinian families there cheering, which made the whole atmosphere really exciting. Argentina lost the game, but everyone still clapped at the end and kept up their national pride.


Watching the World Cup in Iguazu, Argentina

Shanghai World Expo (2010):

In 2010 we happened to be visiting Shanghai while it was hosting the World Expo. I’d never seen anything like it. Each country had its own pavilion decorated a special way, and inside the pavilions were various exhibits and activities the host country wanted to show off. For example, Canada’s pavilion had a cool 360 panorama movie about its glorious nature, and Israel’s pavilion showcased its latest technological innovations. The lines to get into some of the pavilions were insanely long, but it was a really unique experience.


Some of the pavilions at the Expo in Shanghai

Conducting at Pearl Harbor in front of the USS Missouri (2014):

Right after my senior year of high school my high school marching band took a trip to Hawaii. We marched through the streets of Honolulu in the King Kamehameha parade, and performed at Pearl Harbor. I was a drum major, so I got to conduct the band as we played in front of the USS Missouri battleship. That was definitely an moment I’ll never forget.


Marching into Pearl Harbor


Our band in front of the USS Missouri battleship


Marching through Honolulu in the King Kamehameha parade


Marching in the Disney World parade with Marching Mizzou (2014):

Another marching band win. I was in Marching Mizzou freshman year and our football team, which was good that season, made it to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando over winter break. Marching Mizzou went and we got to march through Disney World in the parade, and we also got to spend a day riding the rides in the park! See, band is cool.


Marching Mizzou marching in the Disney World parade

Being in London when Prince George was born…almost (2013):

Okay, I’m still super salty about this. We visited London at the end of July 2013 when Kate was due with the baby prince any day. I was so hoping we’d get to be there the day he was born, see the announcement put out at Buckingham Palace and get a legit commemorative British newspaper. As the week went by and still no baby, I began losing hope. Just my luck, the actual day we got home to the U.S., I opened up my newsfeed to see Prince George was born. Of course.

Seeing the Queen of Norway (2002):

One day while we were in Bergen, my grandparents and I were about to leave our hotel when we saw a huge mob of people outside the entrance. A giant limousine pulled up out front and guys in suits began rolling out a red carpet from the sidewalk outside into the hotel lobby. They put up those gold barricades on either side of the red carpet. Then, all of a sudden, this sharply-dressed woman came out of the limo and started walking the carpet, waving to the spectators. My grandparents and I soon found out she was the queen!

Meeting the TODAY Show anchors (2015):

Over spring break 2015 my mom and I visited New York City for a few days. Our favorite morning show has always been the Today Show, so we decided to try and get there early to get up close to the front. It was literally freezing that morning, but we got there around 5:30 a.m. to get a good spot (shout-out to the Today Show for providing us all with free hand warmers!) The anchors came out to the plaza and talked with visitors during commercial breaks. They were all incredibly nice and didn’t seem annoyed at all that they had to do this every day. They were even patient to stop and take photos with fans.


Selfie with Carson Daly


Matt Lauer!


Left to right: Carson Daly, Savannah Guthrie, Matt Lauer , Al Roker


Celebrating Thanksgiving in Cancun (1997?):

My mom, my grandparents and I were in Cancun over Thanksgiving one year when I was little, and some of our family friends, Larry and Carl, were there at the same. The hotel we were staying at held a Thanksgiving dinner buffet for all the Americans there. My mom said the staff dressed up like pilgrims and there was a mariachi band serenading the dinner. I don’t remember hardly any of it, but this picture is pretty cute:


Clockwise starting left: Me, mom, grandma, Carl, Larry, grandpa

Meeting my pen pal for the first time (2013):

I’ve had my pen pal, Christie, since I was 12. She lives in Reading, which is outside of London. We’d been consistently emailing each other and sending birthday and holiday gifts since 2008. When my mom and I visited France, Belgium and England in 2013, it was the perfect chance to finally meet Christie! She and her dad picked us up from the train station and took us to their home. It was so amazing and unreal to finally get to meet this friend I’d had for five years! I should probably make an entirely separate blog post about this.


Me and Christie outside her house in Reading

That time I met Taylor Swift in the Tokyo Airport (2010):

This will forever be up there with my holy grail of memories. On our trip home from Beijing in August 2010 we had a layover in Tokyo. We were hanging out in the lounge of the Narita airport when, all of a sudden, in waltzes Taylor Swift and her entourage. 14-year-old me freaked out. (Internally though.) Her mom and brother were sitting with her and I was so nervous to go up and talk to her. But my mom encouraged me to just do it, so, on our way out, I told her I was a fan and asked if I could take a picture with her.

She was such a sweetheart and popped up to pose for the photo. She then talked to my mom and me for a bit about what we were doing in Tokyo, and her mom gave me one of the Taylor Swift bracelets they sold on her tour. She was then on our entire 12-hour flight from Tokyo to Chicago. The entire flight I couldn’t stop thinking that I was breathing the same air as Taylor Swift.


Does this even need a caption

“Experiences Are Forever.”

I’ve mentioned my favorite YouTuber, Casey Neistat, several times before on my blog. He’s a filmmaker based out of New York City who has become wildly popular over the past year or so for making daily vlogs about his life in NYC and his travels.

On last Sunday’s vlog, Casey told a story about the time he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with his brother and two friends. Using actual footage from the trip, Casey described how exhaustingly draining the climb was, but how it was an incredible adventure he’d never forget. At the end of the vlog, Casey said this quote that perfectly encapsulated a lot of the thoughts I’ve had about traveling:

“When I look back at the adventures I’ve taken in the past, I realize that they shaped me as a human being. It was adventures like that, spending time with friends like Clint, that made me who I am…That adventure, that experience, will be with me forever. It’s the things in life that are temporary — the experiences are forever.”

This is travel at its best — moments that challenge you, entertain you and maybe even scare you. It’s getting lost in London, roughing it in questionable Airbnbs in Sydney and searching for laundromats in Edinburgh. It’s the early mornings, the long days, the late nights and the people who were right there with you that you’ll never forget.

I like collecting little souvenirs from the places I visit, and my mom and I love filling the walls of our house with art from our travels. Perhaps the reason why we love these material things so much is because they serve as reminders of those experiences. The house could catch on fire tomorrow, but we would still have our memories.

That’s one of the most valuable things I’ve come to realize about traveling — nothing and no one can ever take away from you those experiences you’ve had or the memories you’ve made.

From trekking through a Malaysian rainforest using giant banana leaves as umbrellas, to watching the Bellagio fountain show with my grandpa on his last trip to Las Vegas, to spending a day playing with local kids in Singapore, I like to think of traveling as a continuous string of experiences that contribute to who I am as a person.

Sure, all experiences eventually fade into memories, but that doesn’t make their impact on you any less. You are a product of what you’ve done, where you’ve been and who you’ve met along the way. And traveling is one of the best ways to enrich that product.

Here is Casey’s vlog (quote starts around 9:35):